Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

[Rating:4.5/5]                   

Starring Voices of:  George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wally Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jarvis Cocker, Wes Anderson
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Director:  Wes Anderson
Rating:  PG
Running Time: 87 Mins.
Release Date:  November 13, 2009
DVD Release Date: TBD
Box Office: $20,194,544
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Regency Entertainment, Indian Paintbrush and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Written By:  Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, based on the novel by Roald Dahl.

“Honey, I am 7 fox years old.  My dad died at 7-and-a-half.  I don’t want to live in a hole anymore…and I’m gonna do something about it.” — Mr. Fox (George Clooney).

One of the most unique and fascinating filmmakers alive today, Wes Anderson succeeds at telling the conventional story in unconventional ways.  By not playing things safe, Anderson has missed on occasion.  With “Fantastic Mr. Fox” however, Anderson hits a similar tone and feel, akin with his two best films, “Rushmore”, and “The Royal Tenenbaums”.  The progressive filmmaker’s first foray into animation, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, is a rollicking adventure ride of a film; one that not only holds faithful to the tone and temperament of Roald Dahl’s classic novel, but is good enough to stand tall on its own merits.

With terrific vocal work, George Clooney and Meryl Streep jump all in as Mr. and Mrs. Fox, married and raising their melancholy son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman).  Following the birth of Ash, Mr. Fox reformed from his days as a chicken thief and is now a journalist for the local paper.  Mrs. Fox is a loving and devoted wife; clearly the anchor for the family.  While tasked with keeping Mr. Fox in check, Ash is stuck in the pre-adolescent malaise of anxiety and self-esteem issues.  Ash’s unease is heightened by the arrival of his cousin, Kristofferson (Eric Anderson); a blue-eyed, athletic, ladykiller of a kid who not only invokes Ash’s rage and jealousy but also awakens the spirit of opportunity in Mr. Fox’s questionable intentions.  Fox deals with his ensuing mid-life crisis by targeting three of the nastiest farming brothers, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, and their seemingly abundant flock of potential dinners.  Mr. Fox’s rebellious nature gets the best of him and he ensnares his superintendent, Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), a dim-witted opossum, and eventually his family and friends in his dangerous game of cat and mouse. With the farmers’ livelihoods at stake, the chase, for all involved, is on.

Characters have always been front and center in a Wes Anderson movie, so he seems a natural to create in the animation world.  Implementing an old-fashioned stop-motion animation style, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is refreshing.  In addition to the great vocal work from the ensemble cast Anderson has assembled, the adapted screenplay by Noah Baumbach and Anderson, themselves previous Oscar nominees for screenwriting, is a winner all the way through, as virtually every moment works in a spirited and exuberant way.

The foxes exhibit some rather ravenous eating habits.  Anderson’s now trademark use of classic rock and obscure folk music is on hand to punctuate emotions.  I personally loved the inclusion of “Petey’s Song” by British singer/songwriter, Jarvis Cocker, which summarizes the film’s happenings with a hilarious critique immediately thereafter, at about the midway point.  Then, there is the always entertaining and perfectly placed use of the word “cuss”, in lieu of the more flowery potential curse words.  Even for the most stodgy of movie watchers, there is something here that will get you to chuckle and probably rather loudly.  (I mean, honestly, if you cannot laugh at something here, then what the cuss is wrong with you?)

“Fantastic Mr. Fox”‘s visionary lift comes from cinematographer Tristan Oliver’s impressive framing of each shot and an incredible attention to detail.  Oliver’s previous work lensing “Chicken Run” and the 2005 Wallace and Gromit feature film makes him a perfect fit for Anderson’s fast-paced, dry wit approach to storytelling.  Together, Anderson and Oliver create a vibrant and engaging world in the background, while never proving a distraction for the action and goings on in the foreground.  The film is masterly constructed and the synergy between all of the hands involved is a joy to behold. 

In a day and age where Pixar seems to have the Midas touch for animated filmmaking, it is simply invigorating to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox” prove to be such an across-the-board success.  Wes Anderson and his crew have infused so much energy and life into the film that it not only allows for Roald Dahl’s story to live and breathe, but also allows it to be a sturdy bookend for the just concluded decade in animated filmmaking.

Simply one fantastic film indeed.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” received the following Academy Award Nominations for 2009:
  • Best Animated Feature Film
  • Best Original Score

Should I See It?

YES

A unique, unconventional and completely engaging movie with many laugh out loud moments.  What more could you really want in a comedic film?

For those who study the art of filmmaking, this is a beautiful accomplishment.  The painstakingly detailed costumes, sets and facial expressions are phenomenal leave the movie a joy to watch as well as view.

Fans of Wes Anderson’s filmmaking will not at all be let down and if anything, the story and subject matter of this film might allow for new viewers to experience his distinctive style.

NO

You are not going to have a paint-by-numbers conventional animated film.  The frequent use of title cards, random stabs of music and odd timing may leave you at opposition with the film in general.

For younger viewers and more worldly kids, the “cuss” gag that runs through the film could lead to some imitative behavior that may or may not be an issue for parents.

Is it fair to brand this as anti-vegetarian?  Granted it is an animated film and the book is a classic children’s story, but there are many stop-motion animated chickens (and a few other animals) who fail to survive the film.  Those sensitive to this depiction in their personal lives, may take some caution.